Atlanta makes its third straight trip to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals starting tonight against the East's No. 1 seed Chicago. After an up and down season, not many prognosticators gave Atlanta a chance to make it through the first round. Even less are giving them a chance in the second round against Chicago. One thing I have learned about this Atlanta team this season. is that they are very difficult to predict. Many times they have disappointed us following great wins and other times they have bounced back after we thought they were left for dead.
Atlanta is a major disadvantage without Kirk Hinrich who was key to improving the Hawks pick and roll defense during the Orlando series. Without Hinrich, Larry Drew is faced with deciding between Jeff Teague or Jamal Crawford to replace HInrich in the starting lineup. My guess is that Teague starts but Crawford ends up playing starters minutes which is a good thing if he is shooting the ball well but is a bad thing if his shot is off and he is faced with guarding Derrick Rose.
Chicago dispatched the Indiana Pacers in the first round needing five games to do so. Many of those games were close and several broke down to just Rose trying to save his team. Chicago didn't get consistent production from Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng offensively. That will be key for this Hawks team as they are almost certain to lose the point guard match up by a wide margin and they need to win the majority of the rest of the match ups. Another reason Indiana was able to stay close was by forcing turnovers and pushing the ball in transition. It is because of this that I think Teague is the correct choice to get the starting nod. No matter who draws the assignment against Rose, neither Crawford nor Teague need to be passive offensively as Indiana's Darren Collison had some success in that series and every minute that Rose spends on the bench with an extra foul or two will go a long way if Atlanta is to pull an upset.
To win this series will be a monumental task for Atlanta but if these playoffs have shown anything, it is that anything is possible. Still we are likely asking the Hawks to follow up their best two weeks of the season with an even better two weeks and this time without Kirk Hinrich. Atlanta is an even bigger underdog in this series than against Orlando, 50-1 odds the last time I checked but if anything that is when this team is at its best. As they proved in the first round, they need only take one of the first two games to successfully throw all of the pressure on the higher seeded team.
As far as predictions go, I didn't pick the Hawks to get out of the first round so I am not going to change up now. I do think that Al Horford and Josh Smith present the Bulls with enough problems that it will be a series. If Atlanta can take one of these first two games, then look out as they may surprise us yet again. After all it seems like this team is at its best when the least is expected of it.